This is how the whole story of the Mahabharata moves, and gathers strength; and the idea of each name and each situation can easily be grasped by means of the ancient method of letter analysis. As the subject is of great importance, it would be of interest to give a brief idea of the work as a whole.
The Court of Brahma: The "story" of the Mahabharata opens in the Court of Brahma, the Supreme Purusha of Nyaya; and there comes Mahabhisa, who believes in the truth of the Vaisesika system. There comes the river Ganga too, the Prakrti of the Sankhya system, with its range extending to Vaisesika; and Mahabhisa thinks that he can demonstrate his idea of Action, in connection with Vaisesika, in union with her. Brahma, who, in the light of Nyaya, holds that all actions must be abandoned, takes this as a challenge, and calls upon him to prove his point of view.
The scene then shifts from Brahma's court to this world, which is called the field of Action for it is most necessary that the question should be debated there; and so all the characters are born on Earth. Mahabhisa, now Santanu, represents the whole range of thought, extending from Sankhya to Vaisesika, with Nyaya at the centre; and of him are born different ideas relating to all these systems. As we have observed, the ancients did not consider the pure Sankhya as worthy of serious attention; and so the principal characters are, for the most part, limited to Nyaya and Vaisesika. As the Pandavas and Kauravas are the chief combatants in this great "war", we might limit ourselves to them in this brief survey.
Five Pandava Brothers are Different Parts of One Man: The five Pandava brothers in the story constitute different parts that go to the making of Man, representing the whole viviparous class. We have observed that the Pandavas at first represent the Vaisesika system, referring to Mind-energy, based on the idea of Purusha and Prakrti as joint creators of life; and the point is that, whatever might be said about the three remaining forms of life the Oviparous, the Vegetable kingdom, and Germs the Viviparous at least, born from the womb, are undoubtedly created out of the union of the male and the female and the question is, What system of thought and religion shall Man, born of Purusha and Prakrti as joint creators of life, accept, not as a matter of faith or article of belief, but in the light of Reason, guided by the Mind, and the evidence of his senses? Is it possible for him to accept Vedanta or Vedanta-Yoga, which holds that the universe is created by the Purusha alone; or, if there is Prakrti, hers is but an insignificant part in the creation of life? Must he not, rather, agree with Nyaya, that all life is created by Prakrti, and that the Purusha is but a spectator and witness of its work? Thus, as the first two systems lay stress on Action as a sacrifice, and Nyaya believes in its negation, the whole problem may expressed in terms of Action: Is the end of life Action, performed as a sacrifice? Or is the annihilation of all Action the goal?
Of the five Pandava brothers, born in the Vaisesika system Yudhisthira represents Buddhi; Bhima Mind; Arjuna Prana or Breath, moving through the organs of the senses, from the ears to the rectal organ of excretion; and the twins, Nakula and Sahadeva, Arms and Legs respectively; and this completes the whole Man. They are born one after another, like the child from the womb, head foremost. First the upper part of the head appears, and that is the place of Buddhi or Yudhisthira; then the brow, the place of the Mind, or Bhima; then the organs of the senses from the ears downwards through which Breath can pass, as through holes (Arjuna); and this completes the principal part of Man. Then we have Arms, followed by Legs, which are alike in every part and lie together in the womb; and so they are twins, represented by Nakula and Sahadeva. As Man can continue to live, even though deprived of his Arms and Legs, the first part of Man is conceived to be different from the second, and so the first three brothers are the sons of one mother, Kunti, and the last two of another, Madri.
Kunti: Kunti is the mother of the Pandavas and she represents our planet Earth, and Man, representing the Viviparous, is said to be her child. Further, as Man is born in the Vaisesika system, based on the energy of the Mind, the meeting place of all, the idea is that the Earth is a meeting place of all systems of thought and religion, and each finds support in the forms of life made manifest below.
Karna: The first son of Kunti is Karna, and he represents Seed or the Vegetable kingdom and so the Vegetable kingdom is born earlier than the animal kingdom on our planet Earth; both are brothers, born of the same parent, Earth, but they know it not and the conflict between Karna and the five Pandava brothers is the conflict between Food and the Eater of Food, or the Vegetable Kingdom and the Animal kingdom; for ultimately the Vegetable kingdom constitutes the food of even the carnivorous, who live on the herbivorous, who, in their turn, live on the Vegetable world.
Draupadi: We have observed that Man is born in the Vaisesika system, based on the Mind; and the problem of the Mahabharata is how can he rise to Vedanta-Yoga and Vedanta, and combat the Nyaya and Sankhya systems of thought? Now we have seen that Vedanta has two parts, one relating to Action as a sacrifice, and the other to self- knowledge of the Soul; both of which are woven together into one and in this connection Draupadi, born of sacrifice, represents the Sacrifice of Action and Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of Vedanta, the knowledge of the Soul; and so is Draupadi called Krshna too. Thus the marriage of the five Pandava brothers with Draupadi is the union of Man with Action as a sacrifice; and this is the first step to his understanding the idea of Vedanta; and so it is here that, for the first time, Krshna comes to meet all the five Pandava brothers.
Draupadi is won by Arjuna alone, but is united with all the five brothers; and, as Arjuna represents Breath or Prana, this signifies that, while the principal energy in the performance of Action is Prana. Or the energy of the Heart as Breath, each of the other parts of Man, Buddhi (Yudhisthira), Mind (Bhima) and Arms and Legs (Nakula and Sahadeva), can take part in Action equally well and so are all the five Pandava brothers married to one Draupadi, Action conceived and performed as a sacrifice.
Krshna: Krshna is the central figure in the main story of the Epic. He is the Supreme Purusha of Vedanta, according to which the whole universe is conceived as having been created by Purusha alone, and Prakrti itself is created out of him. He is born in the Lunar race of Yadu princes, to prove that it is possible for Man, born of the union of the male and female, in the Vaisesika system, based on the energy of the Mind, to hold that the ultimate, supreme energy of life is Purusha alone, and not the union of Purusha and Prakrti together and so he is the teacher, guide, friend, and kinsman of the Pandavas or Man. He has two principal places for his abode, Action conceived as sacrifice, and Soul consciousness in the Heart; and the former is Dwarka, situated on the western coast of India, the region of Air, the element of Action, in the Golden Egg or Brahmanda; and the latter is the Heart of Man himself and so he is to be found either with the Pandavas or in the city of Dwarka. There is victory wherever he is present; but when he is denied, that is, when he is present neither in Dwarka nor in the bosom of Man (Pandavas), Man must fail and so Yudhisthira lost the "Gambling Match" because Krshna was not in their midst and absent from Dwarka too and it is only when Man, convinced of the truth of Vedanta, places himself under his complete direction and control, that he can succeed in the "battle of Kurukshetra" or the Field of Action.
Kauravas: Bhishma: We have referred to the Kauravas as representing the Nyaya system of thought. Bhishma or Dyu is the Supreme Purusha of Nyaya; and as Purusha in this system is not a creator but a mere spectator of the work of Prakrti, he must remain unmarried through life, and is only a spectator of the work of others.
Dhritarashtra and Others: Dhritarashtra is one who, though born in the Vaisesika system (Man), blindly and deliberately accepts Nyaya instead, and so he is born blind. As a son in sacred literature represents some aspect of his father's energy or idea, his hundred sons are but innumerable forms and ramifications of this system of thought, each personified as a Man. Vidura refers to Vaisesika, associated with Yoga on the one hand and Nyaya on the other; and so he is a friend of both Pandavas and Kauravas, and remains neutral in the battle of Kurukshetra, Drona represents Heart-energy according to Nyaya and Vaisesika; conceived as Water or a Fluid substance, and analogous to the Mind and so he is said to have been born out of a Water-pot. His son, Asvatthaman, is Mind in the Vaisesika system; and so he is associated with both the senses of knowledge and action, and must accept the necessity of Action. Krpa refers to Action according to pure Sankhya, which too must accept the necessity of Action as a means of purification of the body, so long as a person lives; but regards its renunciation to be the final and highest end. These are the principal characters on the side of the Kauravas; Sakuni represents Nyaya inclined to Sankhya; and the idea of Karna as Vegetable kingdom or Food; has already been explained.